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U. of I. designs prototype for low-cost, easy-to-build ventilator — and offers it free to manufacturers

Any company could build and distribute the sorely needed ventilators in as little as 4-6 weeks because of the simplicity of the design, officials said.

A diagram of the Illinois RapidVent developed by engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows how the product would function when attached to a patient to help them breath.
A diagram of the Illinois RapidVent developed by engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows how the product would function when attached to a patient to help them breath.
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Engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have created an easily-manufactured, disposable and portable emergency ventilator they hope can be quickly put into production to help hospitals deal with a surge of COVID-19 patients.

Engineers at the university’s Grainger College of Engineering in collaboration with Carle Health in Urbana worked to create a prototype that has run for more than 75 hours — about 125,000 breathing cycles — and works as well as a commercial model, the school announced.

Following successful testing, the components and design of the prototype — called the Illinois RapidVent — have been posted for anyone to download for free at the college’s website. The university will not receive royalties from the design nor benefit financially from production of the ventilators, according to Rashid Bashir, the college’s dean and a professor of bioengineering.

“We’ve had many potential partners reach out to us, from all over, even internationally,” Bashir said.

A prototype of a ventilator developed by the University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering is simple to manufacture and could be produced rapidly to get the devices into the hands of healthcare professionals as they deal with a surge of COVID-19 patients, according to Rashid Bashir, the college’s dean.
A prototype of a ventilator developed by the University of Illinois Grainger College of Engineering is simple to manufacture and could be produced rapidly to get the devices into the hands of healthcare professionals as they deal with a surge of COVID-19 patients, according to Rashid Bashir, the college’s dean.
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If a company began producing the ventilators now, they could get into the hands of physicians in as little as 4-6 weeks because of the simplicity of the design, which could plug into a hospital’s oxygen supply or be connected to an oxygen tank, he said.

“This is not a really sophisticated ventilator, like you would see at most hospitals,” Bashir said. “This is an emergency ventilator, the type you would see in a disaster area, that can support hospitals who need help now.”

Dr. Charles Dennis, chief medical officer at Carle Health, said one of the biggest benefits to hospitals would be the cost. Each unit is expected to cost $100, while a standard ventilator costs “tens of thousands of dollars,” he said.

“These could be more rapidly produced and at a low cost point,” Dennis said.

The ventilators would be particularly helpful in triage and during transportation of patients, Dennis said, and help reserve standard ventilators for patients in the most serious conditions who need them the most.

The university is already working with partners in business and manufacturing and looking for more, Bashir said. Those partners will also will need to apply for approval from the FDA, which is working to fast-track production of ventilators to meet demand.

“The FDA is doing everything we can to support patients, health care professionals, hospitals, medical product manufacturers and the public during this pandemic,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement last week. “One of the most impactful steps we can take is to help with access and availability to life-saving medical treatments.”

The prototype of the ventilator is easily portable, giving healthcare workers more options and time to make decisions when treating COVID-19 patients.
The prototype of the ventilator is easily portable, giving healthcare workers more options and time to make decisions when treating COVID-19 patients.
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More ventilators, which help coronavirus victims whose lungs fail, are sorely needed in the state and nationwide, officials said. Cases are expected to peak in April; Illinois officials reported Tuesday that 99 people have died in the state due to the outbreak and have confirmed nearly 6,000 cases.

As of Tuesday, the state has 2,568 ventilators, with about half in use, the Center Square reported. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has asked the federal government to provide as many as 4,000 additional ventilators. President Donald Trump promised to send 150 to the state this week.

“This is a solution that we think can greatly help physicians [and] give them more time to make decisions,” Bashir said.

An issue, however, is the start-up cost of manufacturing the ventilators in mass, especially for small and medium sized companies. Bashir said he and others at the college are advocating for funding from state, federal and philanthropic sources for companies that will need investment to start production.

“There are still some hurdles,” Dennis said, but “it’s very promising.”